Moderna Embarks On Phase 2 Study Of Covid-19 Candidate; Shares Pop 11%

Moderna Inc. (MRNA) announced that it has started dosing the first patients in a Phase 2 study with its experimental mRNA-1273 vaccine candidate against the novel coronavirus. Shares shot up 11% to $61.50 on Friday.

The Phase 2 study, being conducted by Moderna under its own Investigational New Drug (IND) application, seeks to evaluate the safety, reactogenicity and immunogenicity of two vaccinations of mRNA-1273 given 28 days apart. The biotech company plans to enroll 600 healthy participants across two cohorts of adults ages 18-55 years and older adults ages 55 years and above.

Earlier this month, Moderna reported “positive” interim clinical data saying that the Phase 1 study of its mRNA-1273 vaccine candidate produced antibodies that would be able to “neutralize” the virus in patients. The company reiterated plans to start the Phase 3 trial in July, subject to the finalization of the clinical trial protocol.

The study will be conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Funding from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), will support the late-stage clinical development programs, as well as the scale-up of mRNA-1273 manufacturing both at the company’s facilities and that of its strategic collaborator, Lonza Ltd.

Since the start of the year, the value of Moderna’s shares has more than tripled.

Earlier this month, five-star analyst Cory Kasimov at J.P. Morgan reiterated a Buy rating on the stock with a $66.69 price target, saying that there is still much work to be done, risks to navigate, and a lot we don’t actually know.

“Moderna may have a viable product on their hands,” Kasimov wrote in a note to investors. “That said, how to appropriately capture this in MRNA’s valuation is a tougher question to answer (especially given all the unknowns around COVID-19 and the ultimate opportunity) and one that we suspect will be a key investor debate going forward.”

Overall, Wall Street analysts are bullish on Moderna stock awarding 10 Buy and 2 Hold ratings which add up to a Strong Buy consensus. Despite the recent share rally, the $96.75 average price target still indicates a staggering 57% upside potential from current levels. (See Moderna stock analysis on TipRanks).

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